Chile's Codelco plans to resume Chuquicamata mine operations after rains

Vehicles travel along a road, with "Chuquicamata" copper mine seen in the background, after heavy rains hit north of Chile near Calama, Chile, February 8, 2019. REUTERS/John Yevenes

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Chilean state miner Codelco said on Saturday it hoped to soon restart operations at its northern Chuquicamata copper mine a day after heavy rains forced its suspension.

Codelco said operations at its smaller Ministro Hales mine restarted late on Friday after several hours’ suspension and that workers began their shift at Chuquicamata on Saturday afternoon with a view to “restoring normal operations gradually and progressively.”

The world’s biggest copper producer said water supply and stable electricity had been restored at Chuquicamata after the mine’s operations were suspended following what meteorologists described as the highest levels of rainfall in more than 40 years in some areas, resulting in the deaths of at least six people, power and water cuts and the destruction of roads and houses.

More heavy rain and electrical storms, with the risk of mud and landslides, are predicted over the next 24 hours.

The miner also said that operations at its other mines in the area, Radomiro Tomic and Gabriela Mistral, along with those at Ministro Hales, were continuing “relatively normally” albeit with precautionary measures in place.

Chuquicamata is the miner’s second largest by output while Ministro Hales accounted for 12 percent of Codelco’s total output in 2017.

Chilean President Sebastian Pinera on Friday and Saturday visited the nearby cities of Calama and Arica and declared the areas disaster zones, calling in the military to help evacuate at risk homes and secure roads.

The decree came just days after three southern provinces were declared disaster zones following forest fires.

Codelco said an alternate road between Calama and Chuquicamata had been established after a bridge on the main road collapsed in the bad weather.

Reporting by Aislinn Laing, editing by G Crosse